In 587 BCE the Babylonian army conquered Jerusalem. The invading soldiers demolished the city walls, burned down the Temple, destroyed buildings and led its leading citizens and artisans off into captivity in Babylon.
In exiles the Jews soon realised that while they were captives in body, they did not have to be captives in spirit. The Babylonians could control where they lived but not what they believed.
A faithful group of Jews refused to forget their religious heritage. They resisted every effort their captors to entire them to ridicule their faith. They refused to allow the beauty of Babylon, with its rivers and poplars, to replace in their hearts the beauty of Jerusalem, their holy city.
This resistance is well expressed in today’s psalm. It reveals the people’s immense grief at the loss of their homeland and their resolve never to forget their God, despite the seemingly hopeless situation they were now in.
Like the exiles, we too can sometimes feel that we are living in a strange and alien land – and if we don’t then perhaps we ought to.
We are surrounded by a culture that more often than not does recognise Christ in this world or follow the teaching that places love at the centre of the universe, as they pursue all sorts of other goals and ambitions.
Like them we can be tempted to forget our heritage, but we need to remain faithful Christ, following his teachings and the way of life he showed to us, not just for ourselves but for the whole world.
God loves the world so much and desires that everyone be saved. In our gospel text Jesus says that he came not to condemn the world but to save it.
Far too often the church has been quick to condemn, and very slow to reach out our hands to save.
We talk about bringing the truth into the light but so often hide the truths of our own history and society away, far from any scrutiny or gaze.
When that happens we harden ourselves to the truth, we fail to realise the amazing gift of grace that God has already saved us, and so we fail to respond with the mercy, forgiveness and love that could set us and all creation free.
That is what I think it means when it says those who cannot come to believe are condemned already, not by God, but by themselves, as they shut themselves off from the light and love of a God who came to save.
By our Christian witness we can each be instruments through which the saving grace of God, poured out in Jesus the Christ, can be communicated to all, and forgiveness is a massive part of that communication.
As we continue to journey through Lent with Common Grace, we this week hear from Pastor Graham Paulson, the first ever ordained indigenous Baptist pastor in Australia, and his son Grant, also a trained clergyman working for World Vision Australia, as they reflect on what it means to be set free by forgiveness...both in our being forgiven by God and our freedom to forgive others.
As we listen to the following clip, let us contemplate and ask God to reveal to us those areas in our lives, or in our community, where we might need to receive, or to give forgiveness.